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I hate underground levels. Tunnels, sewers, catacombs. They always feel like filler to me. A way for a developer to cheaply extend their game. But one of the most impressive things about Metro: Last Light is how it consists almost entirely of dingy subterranean passages, and yet is one of the prettiest, most atmospheric games on PC.
On a technical level, developer 4A s engine is capable of some incredible lighting and particle effects. But more importantly, its artists are great world-builders. You see some impressive sights, like the shattered skyline of what was once Moscow. But often it s the smaller details that are the most evocative.
In one of the many settlements protagonist Artyom visits, I saw a man making shadow puppets for a group of children. He shows them a dog, then a bird. But they don t know what they are, because they were born into a world where such things no longer exist. In fact, they think the bird is a demon. I also love how the people who live in the metro keep pictures of the pre-war world by their beds. Photographs of parks and lakes. Although if I lived down there, I wouldn t want a daily reminder of a world that s gone forever. These tiny glimmers in an otherwise completely hopeless setting are a great example of Metro s fantastic world-building.
On a grander scale, the level Echoes sees Artyom exploring the remains of a crashed jet on the surface. Climbing into the fuselage and seeing rows of people still in their seats skeletons frozen in time is a haunting moment. It s not as subtle as some of the other apocalyptic imagery you see on your travels, but still effective. The surface is used sparingly, which makes every trip there feel almost like a treat.
One of my favourite cities in the game is Venice, which is built in a flooded tunnel. This has created a series of waterways through the settlement, which the residents use as canals. When Artyom first passes through he sees a makeshift gondola float past with a couple on board being serenaded by a man playing an accordion. Slightly silly, but gives you the sense that people are making the best of a bad situation.
I don t like the game as much as the setting, though. There are some great set-pieces, but also a lot of frustrating ones. 4A really loves making you wait for something to happen, like an impossibly slow ferry to arrive, as waves of bullet-sponge enemies rush you. And the less said about the boss battle in the dreary Undercity level the better. It s ultimately a pretty average FPS, but the desire to see more kept me playing.
One of my favourite levels is Regina , in which Artyom takes an armoured railcar through a series of mutant-filled tunnels. It reminds me of Half-Life 2 s coastal highway section, giving you the ability to stop the car whenever you like and explore. I think I enjoyed this part because it felt so much freer.
What I really want is a Fallout-style RPG set in those tunnels, with lots of talking and exploration. It s such a fascinating setting I think it deserves more than a linear shooter. But I also understand that 4A is a small team with a fraction of the budget of Bethesda. The very fact they made something as polished and beautiful as Last Light with a fraction of the resources of a larger developer is hugely impressive.
When 4A Games announced Arktika.1 as a VR-only title last week, many feared that it signalled the studio's departure from a) the Metro series and b) traditional non-VR development. The good news is, at least where the latter is concerned, is that the studio is working on two titles.
According to a new post on its website, 4A creative director Andriy Prokohrov addressed those who were disappointed by last week's announcement. "Arktika.1 is one of two projects in development right now," he wrote.
"It s not holding the other project up with our new Malta studio we are a much bigger team, and it is better for us to have multiple projects, for our own independence and creativity. We re not ready to talk about the other project just yet, but we think you ll like it. So please be patient!"
Who knows whether that unannounced project is actually a Metro game, but according to a possibly-no-longer-accurate 2014 interview, the studio was working on a more sandbox-oriented title. "For the game we are working on now, our designers have shifted to a more sand-box-style experience - less linear but still hugely story-driven," Chief Technical Officer Oles Shishkovstov said at the time.
As for Arktika.1, the studio promises that it'll be a "full-blown AAA title" and that it's scheduled to release mid next year. For more on that, check out Andy's report from last week.
GOG has added some Saints Row, some Darksiders, and a Metro game to its lineup, all of them completely without the hassles and headaches we know (and really don't love) as digital rights management. And to mark the moment, it's got them all on sale, too.
First up is Saints Row 2, now on for $4 instead of the regular $10 price, and Saints Row: The Third—The Full Package, which includes the main game and a pile of DLC, for $5 instead of $15. Then there's Darksiders, currently going for $8, and Darksiders II, which is $12. The Darksiders II Complete DLC pack is also up for grabs for $8.
Finally, there's Metro: Last Light Redux, and this one strikes me as a bit odd, because Metro 2033 Redux is nowhere to be seen. Licensing issues are sometimes a problem with GOG releases, but Deep Silver hold the rights to the entire franchise, so if it can do one it should be able to do both. Technical issues, maybe?
Whatever the case, Metro: Last Light Redux is on for $12.50, which I'd say is a really good price for a really good shooter. All five of the new-to-GOG games are available now, and will remain on sale until May 18.
Update: The mystery of the missing Metro hasn't exactly been solved, but it has been acknowledged, and there's a chance the game will turn up at some point in the future. "We cannot say exactly why it s been released this way, since this is related to discussions that are under NDA," a GOG rep explained. "But we sure hope that we will be able to bring Metro 2033 Redux to GOG in the future."
In Why I Love, PC Gamer writers pick an aspect of PC gaming that they love and write about why it's brilliant. Today, Tom savours the tactile excellence of Metro's machinery.
If you're into atmospheric FPS games and haven't played Metro 2033 or Metro: Last Light then you're in for a treat. These maudlin shooters are set in the aftermath of an apocalyptic event that's driven humanity into the Moscow metro. The series is largely set in these gorgeous tunnels, dripping with irradiated gloop, inhabited by strange misshapen creatures and tolerated by a populace of hardened grumps.
Both games are beautiful—especially since 2033 received the Redux update—and both use the transition between underground and overground areas to pace your journey through the wasteland, exposing you to a series of carefully framed scenes of extraordinary destruction—a crashed airliner in the rubble of a skyscraper, a huge concrete wound that exposes the mangled platforms of a once-buried station. It's hard to compress the strange cocktail of melancholy and amazement these scenes inspire into a single phrase. Let's go with "misery-awe".
Metro is so effective because it uses its props to embody you in its world. Metro's guns are creaky analogue things that need to be cranked and punched into working order. Your keep your light alive by pumping the handle of a manual battery. Your pneumatic rifle uses a little circular meter to let you know how much power it has in the tank. The dial is rusted and wobbly, and the little dial inside looks like it would quiver convincingly if you gave it a flick.
You're always seeing your hands manipulating your gear, and these animations sell the heft of these rusted old weapons brilliantly. Everything seems oddly robust, as though assembled by a pragmatic hand. It feels like the designers know how each gun or tool works, and could almost build you one if they had the right parts. There's a terrific machinegun that sends the clip horizontally through the body of the gun. You don't need a fancy ammo counter or UI device to know how many rounds you have left, you can just count them.
The gas mask might be Metro's greatest triumph. You need it to breathe the deadly atmosphere on the surface, but wearing it is oppressive. The entire soundscape becomes muted and your breathing becomes loud and harsh. As your filter wears out, you start to choke. The scratched visor becomes damaged as you fight, and can be dirtied by blood and radioactive dust. There's even a button that lets you wipe it down, with a perfect little plastic squeak of course
It's one of the most reactive and tactile objects in games. You can tell it's effective, because it's a real relief when you're finally allowed to tear it off. Even thinking about it makes me want to take a deep breath and be glad of this lovely breathable air. Metro could do the same for you, too. I recommend it.